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Formula One season primer

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The Formula One season that starts this weekend in Australia offers a first-ever twilight race on a course groomed to smooth out adjacent bits; so Toyota's Timo Glock Corner shouldn't be launching the TF109 if he takes a corner wide this ...

The Formula One season that starts this weekend in Australia offers a first-ever twilight race on a course groomed to smooth out adjacent bits; so Toyota's Timo Glock Corner shouldn't be launching the TF109 if he takes a corner wide this year.

Only one rookie joins the field, Sebastien Buemi, unless you count newly independent Brawn Grand Prix, a phoenix rising from the ashes of Honda F1. So if team continuity suggests sameness, perhaps rules offer hope for change.

Rules changes make for a shiny newness. Global financial angst makes for a potential for complete shake-up.

New rules include slicks instead of grooved tires; narrower rear wings and fatter front ones that drivers can manipulate from the cockpit; engine revs cut from 19.000 to 18,000; downforce reduced through elimination of add-ons such as barge boards, winglets, vanes and chimneys; diffusers moved back on the cars (with much attention paid to certain teams' deployments, something the season and the FIA will sort); safety-car pitting to be within a measured time allowance per car, and kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS), an option.

The safety-car rule change is intended to eliminate penalizing cars that need fuel just as pits are closed for safety-car use. Use of global positioning satellites (GPS) and each car's electronic control unit (ECU) will give every driver a time frame in which to return to the pits; anyone there sooner than electronically allowed faces penalties.

Ah, KERS. Teams choosing to use this device that stores braking energy for later use will find themselves at odds in weight concerns because teams not using the units won't carry the extra weight. Noise surrounding KERS has included whether the introduction is mistimed, considering the worldwide money meltdown that has hurt carmakers with slumping sales, such as Toyota, BMW, Mercedes and Renault. BMW Sauber has supported KERS in F1 strongly for the opportunity to develop the concept for road cars.

Speaking of weight, weights of cars will be published after qualifying to let the public at large take a stab at calculating how much fuel qualifiers carried into the race.

Before the lights go out, here's a look at the field:

McLaren Mercedes
Since: 1963
HQ: Woking, England
Chassis: MP4-24
Powerplant: Mercedes-Benz FO 108W
Team boss: Martin Whitmarsh
2008 points: 151
Drivers, nationalities, 2008 points, car numbers: Lewis Hamilton, English, 98, No. 1; Heikki Kovalainen, Finnish, 53, No. 2
Outlook: Slow test times and warning words indicate the MP4-24 has not come along to new rules as willingly as other chassis. Look to driver development, or lack of.
Expect: Less than the best.

Ferrari
Since: 1950
HQ: Maranello, Italy
Chassis: F60
Powerplant: Ferrari 056
Team boss: Stefano Domenicali
2008 points: 172
Drivers, nationalties, 2008 points, car numbers: Felipe Massa, Brazilian, 97, No. 3; Kimi Raikkonen, Finnish, 75, No. 4
Outlook: Bright as ever; Ferrari is about the only carmaker team not affected by a global sales slump.
Expect: Improved pit crew work and same solid driving.

BMW Sauber
Since: 1993
HQ: Munich, Germany; Hinwil, Switzerland
Chassis: F1.09
Powerplant: BMW P86/9
Team boss: Mario Theissen
2008 points: 135
Drivers, nationalities, 2008 points, car numbers: Robert Kubica, Polish, 75, No. 5; Nick Heidfeld, German, 60, No. 6
Outlook: Germanic determination and Swiss reliability make for a no-brainer for improvement. Since BMW buyout of private Sauber, the team is on target with goals. Weight issues loom for teams using kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS). Mario Theissen is understandably concerned; driver Robert Kubica might show up with full-blown anorexia given his willingness to drop weight before last season to help car balance.
Expect: Championship runs on two fronts.

Renault
Since: 1977
HQ: Enstone, England
Chassis: R29
Powerplant: Renault RS27
Team boss: Flavio Briatore
2008 points: 80
Drivers, nationalities, 2008 points, car numbers: Fernando Alonso, Spanish, 61, No. 7; Nelson Piquet, Brazilian, 19, No. 8 Outlook: Podium finishers with one of the two best all-around drivers in the field challenging for a third driving title.
Expect: Alonso to pull the team to the top.

Toyota
Since: 2002
HQ: Cologne, Germany
Chassis: TF109
Powerplant: Toyota RVX-09
Team boss: Tadashi Yamashina
2008 points: 56
Drivers, nationalities, 2008 points, car numbers: Jarno Trulli, Italian, 31, No. 9; Timo Glock, German, 25, No. 10
Outlook: Better than ever so long as discipline born of budget-slashing wins the day.
Expect: Trulli to shine.

Scuderia Toro Rosso
Since: 1985 (Minardi)
HQ: Faenza, Italy
Chassis: STR4
Powerplant: Ferrari
Team boss: Franz Tost
2008 points: 39
Drivers, nationalities, 2008 points, car numbers: Sebastien Bourdais, French, 4, No. 11; Sebastien Buemi, Swiss, 0, No. 12
Outlook: Aspirational if not as bright as with Vettel on board.
Expect: Bahrain resident Buemi to beat his teammate.

Red Bull
Since: 1997 (Stewart)
HQ: Milton Keynes, England
Chassis: RB5
Powerplant: Renault RS27
Team boss: Christian Horner
2008 points: 29
Drivers, nationalities, 2008 points, car numbers: Mark Webber, Australian, 21, No. 14; Sebastian Vettel, German, 35, No. 15
Outlook: Outstanding as the brightest light of new drivers shines on his new team.
Expect: Webber to reverse his usual fortunes vis-a-vis teammates.

Williams
Since: 1975
HQ: Grove, England
Chassis: FW31
Powerplant: Toyota
Team boss: Frank Williams
2008 points: 26
Drivers, nationalities, 2008 points, car numbers: Nico Rosberg, German, 17, No. 16; Kazuki Nakajima, Japanese, 9, No. 17
Outlook: Tempestuous as ever.
Expect: Rosberg to record a make-or-break season and Nakajima to improve.

Force India
Since: 1991 (Jordan)
HQ: Silverstone, England
Chassis: VJM02
Powerplant: Mercedes-Benz FO 108W
Team boss: Vijay Mallya
2008 points: 0
Drivers, nationalities, 2008 points, car numbers: Adrian Sutil, German, 0, No. 18; Giancarlo Fisichella, Italian, 0, No. 19
Outlook: Improved through an engine change.
Expect: Points.

Brawn Grand Prix, nee Honda F1
Since: 1968 (Tyrrell)
HQ: Brackley, England
Chassis: BGP 001
Powerplant: Mercedes-Benz FO 108W
Team boss: Ross Brawn
2008 points: 14
Drivers, nationalities, 2008 points, car numbers: Jenson Button, English, 3, No. 20; Rubens Barrichello, Brazilian, 11, No. 21
Outlook: Brighter than an unused penny.
Expect: Button to discover his career in custody of a Brazilian.

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